iPhone: One buyer's tale of woe

The wait was over. But our correspondent's husband found it wasn't so easy to tap into the magic.

By Abigail Heffernan, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Finally, the wait was over. The much-heralded iPhone was here.

People across the country diligently stood in line waiting for the "next coming" - the delivery of a magic device that would transport them to the next level of cool.

An iPhone customer eyes the goods in New York Friday.

Me on the other hand, I was part of the lengthy list of "uncool" media people who weren't knighted with early access to the iPhone by the all-knowing, all-powerful Steve Jobs. Thus I was forced to send my husband, Tim, to our local AT&T store to brave the crowds for the next new gadget. What the heck, I figured, he likes that stuff anyway.

He arrived at the store around 5 o'clock to find a line of 25 people already queued up outside. He joined the others camped out on the sidewalk with their Apple computers (no PCs allowed) "borrowing" the neighborhood wireless (and sporadically being kicked off) and instant messaged me the latest updates in his noble quest for the elusive iPhone.

At the witching hour of 6 p.m., the doors to all the enchanted Apple and AT&T stores opened, with employees cheering buyers on as they rushed to lay out their $500 to $600 for the sleek new phone. Some places were more orderly than others - allowing only five people into the store at a time. After more than an hour of waiting outside the store for each group to get their toys, Tim instant messaged me again, "I'm in!"

About an hour later, as I was heading out of the office when my own non-iPhone cellphone rang.


"iTunes is down." Tim said despondently.


"iTunes. You have to register your phone and sign up through iTunes and it's not letting me in. Can you imagine what it's going to be like at 9 p.m. when the whole West Coast starts trying to sign on?"

Oh boy.

So, being the intrepid iPhone user he is, Tim headed to the local Starbucks to figure out how to get connected. After 45 minutes of trying, iTunes finally granted him entry, and he stepped through hoop after hoop of activation - not to mention the 100 megabytes of downloads to upgrade the thing. On the last step he received an error:

"We're sorry, AT&T has determined that your account cannot be used with the iPhone."

Apparently, if you ever had a corporate discount on your account or if you were ported from Cingular to AT&T after the merger, your account ends up with a "business code" on it. After spending another 30 minutes on the phone with AT&T and Apple - and sending a nasty note to Apple tech support - you get a courtesy response: "We realize that this is not a business phone and are working diligently to fix the known problem." Which apparently takes a full 24 to 72 hours to fix.

Upon reading the fine print further and wading through some legalese, it turns out that if you are a CRU (Corporate Responsibility User - someone who uses their phone primarily for business and a company pays for it) or a SLB (Split Liability Billing User - someone whose employer is responsible for part, but not all of the wireless bill) you have roughly 3 options:

1. Sign up for a new "consumer line" phone and get a completely new phone number (Now, correct me if I am wrong here, but doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of the iPhone?)

2. Activate the phone and then associate it with your company, but lose any discount you might usually get.

3. Return the darn thing.

So, back into line he went - and he wasn't alone. There were at least 10 other people there, angrily trying to straighten their accounts out.

A day later the mythical iPhone still sat like a brick on our kitchen table. No cool graphics, no music, no Google Maps.

And the problem even had Apple "Geniuses" stumped. One rep was kind enough to sit on hold for us for three hours while she waited for an AT&T rep, periodically sending us encouraging emails like "service should be restored soon," and "AT&T says that in 12 hours your service should be available."

Around 7:30 Saturday evening, after obsessively refreshing our email inbox and a few more calls to AT&T and Apple, the iPhone unexpectedly lit up. For the next hour and a half, Tim pushed buttons and regularly invited me to share in his glee.

The magic of the iPhone had been released. The iWait over, the iPhone is no longer just a useless paperweight. It's now a really cool toy that rings and buzzes like it's supposed to.

Finally, technological bliss.  Top of page